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on 22 May 2017
The blurb describes this novel as being ‘a small story’. It is…but it’s a small story over a big number of pages! Five hundred and sixty-two of them, in fact. It did require a bit of a commitment from me, but it was worth every single moment.

It’s told in quite a unique way and narrated by Death. As the book is set in Nazi Germany, Death was pretty busy. The story focuses on Liesel, a nine-year-old, fostered by a family living in Himmel Street. And she steals books.

It’s a beautiful story evoking a multitude of emotions amidst the tragedy that was Nazi Germany that saw the deaths of six million Jews and many, many others. By contrast you have a touching relationship between Liesel and her foster parents…her foster ‘papa’ in particular. Then there's the awkward, but tender friendship between Liesel and her peer, Rudy. This is a story like no other, crafted in an original style.

Ultimately, I rather enjoyed the fact that it was a long book. How many times have you reluctantly reached the end of a book with that mixture of joy to have finished a good story but sad to have to leave the world of the characters you love therein? It was rather comforting to know that for many pages, I wouldn’t be leaving the very endearing Liesel and the wonderful voice of Death.

Read it. Just read it.
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on 9 November 2017
Set in Germany during the Second World War this book is narrated by death. Not the vindictive stealer of life we assume, but a more paternalistic purveyor of souls. Like a character from Greek myth he is just there to carry people to the other side. There is almost a tenderness in the way he speaks of carrying the children.

In common with more modern books, such as The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas, The Reader and Valkyrie, this book gives the German perspective. Similar to Anne Frank’s Diary, the reader is introduced to a girl’s perspective and her relationships with German Jews. Initially I wondered why it was necessary for her to be a book thief, apart from her poverty. Then I reflected on the fact that in Nazi Germany a lot of books were burnt, therefore there is something seditious in books themselves. Equally due to her background she has not learned to read very well and this becomes part of her development, although I don’t think this is overly represented in the book.

Liesel’s relationship with Ruddy is one of camaraderie and mutual support. In one sense he is Liesel’s partner in crime when she goes to the mayors house to steal the books. It also emphasises how isolated she is and how much she depends on her relationship with him and Max. Liesel’s adopted parents display both generosity and practicality. Papa is the dreaming musician who paints people’s houses and plays the accordion. He often paints for nothing, including painting over the offensive graffiti daubed on Jewish houses, something which is forbidden by the Nazi’s. It is this behaviour which keeps him out of the party, but it is his generosity giving food to marching Jews which is Liesel’s inspiration for her later actions. Mama is the practical one, taking in ironing to earn money to feed the family. Work which diminishes throughout the novel, whether from poverty or due to her husband’s behaviour it is not totally clear. Yet despite her strict exterior she takes Max in and is concerned that he does not freeze to death in their basement. Max like the mayor’s wife has nothing to give but books. She leaves the window open to allow Liesel access to her library, Max paints over the pages of a book in order to provide a blank page to write Liesel a story. Everyone in the book, despite their poverty, gives, except the Nazi’s who take lives, keeping death busy.

The horror of the holocaust is not minimised by deaths admonition that he is busy following Dachau, but it is not gruesome. It is almost with a sadness that he collects the souls of those who died so young, especially the children. It is then fitting that the book thief lives a long life into old age before death comes to collect her.
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A fabulous book formulated in a way that very much put me in mind of 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'.

The novel follows the journey of an innocent girl living in the time of Nazi Germany and charts her experiences of war and loss but, more importantly, the slow building horror as she finally confronts the truth about what's happening to the Jews.

Leisel is a great fictional character. The story of her life ufolds at a slow pace and it's fair to say there's a lot of scene setting as Markus Zusak takes great care to develop Leisel's world and the host of characters sharing it with her. The historical aspects read well. There are times when the plot meanders away and I was wondering when we'd get back to the real story, at more than 500 pages there's space for self indulgence, and that's really my only 'niggle'.

There's a fair amount of fantasy running alongside the horror, having Death narrate the story is something I wouldn't have expected, but it works. The spectral figure of Death relating the surreal events of the times adds a great deal of contrast and a real hint of darkness which is beautifully evoked against the loss of Liesel's innocence as the poverty and horror of war creep into her little town blackening the air around her.

The ending is brilliantly done and, like 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, you've read it before the true catastrophe draws you back in makes you think WHAT!.

There are many subtle messages floating around in The Book Thief not least the one of how book burning cannot quell the spirit of a people...especially Liesel. This isn't a straightforward story. It's quirky and unusual. Took me a while to read because parts of the narrative run slowly but I'd recommend it to anyone.
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on 3 August 2016
I have no hesitation in standing alongside those readers that loved this book. Words are important to me as a writer and a reader, so I could feel for the title character, Liesel, and for all those swept in different directions by the power of the word.

On the one hand, the novel shows how easily the sweet insidious words of Hitler could sway so many ordinary people. Most of the characters are German citizens reacting like so many of us do…with knee-jerk responses. Life goes on. It’s too easy to sit back and then realise too late what is really going on. Sadly, just glancing at current politics, we haven’t learnt from those dark days.

On the other hand, words are the beacon of hope for Liesel and others. Books create possibilities, whether classics or stories written on the paint covered pages of Mein Kampf. They inspire.

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.”

Although the Holocaust is building in the background, and the plight of one particular Jew, Max, touches Liesel and our lives, this is a novel about the way that German people reacted to the events at that time. Markus Zusak might be Australian but his mother Lisa is originally from Germany and his father Helmut is from Austria. So they would have known about those times, and having had German friends, I know that the perspective of the citizens was similar to what Liesel experienced. And this novel is from the viewpoint of a child – well except for when Death paints the darker aspects of events, as he/it is always there, especially when the atrocities happen or a child dies senselessly.

Death is a tragic narrator, struggling to understand humanity and trying to take a caring approach to a distasteful job, because “even death has a heart”.

“Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.”

Death’s observations enhance the unfolding story, and in places Death gets the best lines:
“The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?”

And then says, “I am haunted by Humans.” And Death is drawn to Liesel’s story in which there are so many rich characters, from Papa to Rudy Steiner to the Mayor’s Wife, and so many others.

In fact, there was so much to love, from poetic passages and images, to emotion wringing incidents, that I must re-read “The Book Thief”.

The final words must be Liesel’s, and to discover more pick up the novel.

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”
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on 16 April 2016
I have absorbed this book slowly, a few pages at a time, putting it down and returning to it when I felt strong enough to read on. I came at it first via the film so the characters faces were clear in my mind. It's a harrowing, beautiful, terrible story. The Book Thief could in many ways be compared to All Quiet on the Western Front taking us into the heart of Germany as war rages around and challenging us to see people like us... People who are not monsters though their actions may appall. Real people who lived and loved and yearned for a future without war, but people living in extra-ordinary times, brainwashed, coerced, forced to act against every normal instinct in order to survive. Everything is turned upside down in such times and places. Acts of love and compassion are punished so what is left? For Rudi and Liesel Thievery becomes a small possible act of rebellion, a way of remaining honest or true to oneself, instinctive, perhaps even an act of sanity in an insane world.

Death is the narrator of the story, a clever device enabling an emotionally impartial and non-judgemental narration that cuts to the heart.

It is interesting that the narrator prepares the reader for what is to come on several occasions. Yet this preparation in no way diminishes the horror. In some ways it intensifies it... Or focuses the attention... Like preparing to visit the morgue to see a loved one... We need to be prepared to say goodbye properly... To be able to let go... To remember. The dead are honoured by our remembering.
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on 24 August 2017
I loved every page of this book. So many great quotes, observations on humanity and images...I just didn't want it to end. In fact, the only thing I didn't like was the relative sudden-ness of the last few chapters. However, the great quotes from the characters and narrator were there right to the (very!) end which somehow compensated.

A superb story, written in a unique and fascinating way. I'm going right back to the beginning to re-read it!
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on 27 December 2016
When I started reading this I thought I was going to struggle with it. I didn't - what I did struggle with was putting it down.

I loved the writing style which others have criticised, I found the grammar to be perfectly acceptable and I loved the characters.

Ok, I cried a tear a few times, but I believe only a well written book can really make you cry - you have to care about something to be able to cry about it.

I loved it. If you didn't, then you have no heart. Your loss.
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on 16 October 2016
This has quickly made its way to my list of absolute favourite books. I am sure I'll be rereading and rerereading this in the future. The characters feel real and the way the story is written would only work in this type of media which is what makes it so enticing to read. Liesel's story as a blonde girl growing up in Nazi Germany is not a wild adventure but a lot of events happen which develops each character and the reader learns with Liesel. The message of the book itself, once I finished it, made me think for quite a few weeks. This is one of the very few books that has made me break from reading other books as it made me replay many of the events in my head. I adore this book and would reccommend it to anyone who likes fictional stories (that could easily be real) in a non-fictional setting.
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For anyone who doesn't know (and hasn't read the summary above), one of the most interesting things about this book is its narrator. Rather than being narrated by Liesel, the protagonist, her story is told through the eyes of Death, who watches Liesel and visits her three times.

This is a really different quirk and Death's narrative voice adds a lot to the story. The book is full of rich metaphors that I think work well because they're told from the point of view of someone who isn't human, or seeing things like us. Death notices colours a lot and describes things in a way we probably wouldn't.

This is a good point and a bad one in my mind, as, while sometimes I think it creates a really beautiful picture of what's happening, other times I feel like I'm trawling through metaphor after simile after metaphor. It all got a bit much after a while, and I sometimes found myself pausing to puzzle over what a metaphor actually meant, which brought me out of the story.

The second world war setting, along with Death narration, brings something very ominous to the story. You know vaguely where it's going to go - not in a predictable way, just in a 'Oh no, awful things are going to happen' kind of way. It also creates characters that you can't help but love in that difficult position. A favourite for me is Hans, Liesel's adoptive Papa who comforts her in her nightmares, teaches her to read and disagrees with the Nazi party, even as he tries to placate them to keep his family safe. It's a complicated situation, one impossible to win really, but he tries so hard to do the right thing.

Liesel herself is a great protagonist - strong, smart, and ultimately flawed in a way that makes her relatable. Sometimes she says awful thing because she is unhappy, she does or doesn't do things she regrets, and that just makes her all the more loveable.

I sometimes found the language a little jarring - often people will say something in German, and then the translation is given too, as if they said that as well. This probably annoys me because I speak German so it was like reading the same phrase/similar thing twice, but when the majority of dialogue is in English it did feel a bit odd.

The ending is a really bitter sweet one. Which is how I often say I like my endings, although this one has a lot more for the bitter and a lot less of the sweet. But there's something about it that makes me not want to describe it as wholly sad. But you shall have to read and judge for yourself, I don't want to spoil anything here!

This is a really beautiful book and you can see why it appeals to adults and younger readers alike, and why it is so internationally read. Reading after such a long time has been like reading it for the first time and I can safely say now it is definitely a book I enjoy, just a little heavy handed with the metaphors for me.
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on 29 April 2015
This book is just fabulous. Zusak proves that having a narrator in first person need not interfere with third person story telling, as he effortlessly zooms in and out without us even being aware of it.

Without giving too much away, this story is narrated by Death, who is taking time out from a busy schedule to share the story of Liesel, a young German girl living near Munich during WWII. It is stunningly well written - the small asides and quips and explain actions from Death give us a plausible, even likeable character narrator but this is just as much Liesel's tale and gradually you start to hear it in her own words.

There are books that come close to encapsulating the sheer insanity of WWII and the one twisted mind authoring the controlled chaos in Europe - this book, a modern fable, comes closer than most. This is 'Death and the Maiden' and how words are magic - the right words, delivered in the right way at a nipper tune time, can change the world.

Liesel, Rudy, Hans, Max and Rosa are all really engaging characters. I defy you to dislike any of them. The atmospheric and colorful descriptions are mind bendingly good. And there is a delicious but bitter irony in Death contemplating the futility of it all and finding solace in a few human's stories.

I like the fact that this delicately treats with the fact that the Germans were being starved and bullied and dictated : it was the Nazi's who spread the propaganda and furthered the agenda, not the nation as a whole. Those who didn't fall in line got a thin time. It's a side of the story that gets neglected somewhat.

Overall 5++++ stars. I'll read and re-read this many times.
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